St. Lawrence County Legislator Joseph R. Lightfoot, R-Ogdensburg, wants voters to have a say in how the countys 15 legislative districts have been redrawn.
He tried unsuccessfully before county lawmakers adopted a redistricting plan earlier this year to let voters decide its fate by getting a referendum on Novembers ballot. His effort was blocked by fellow legislators who at the same time somehow managed to say with straight faces they were so confident that their plan was the best that they had no problem putting it to a public vote.
Actions speak louder than words. Mr. Lightfoot says that is part of the reason he is circulating a petition to have the county redistricting plan up for referendum on the November 2013 ballot.
Make no mistake; Mr. Lightfoot has a beef with the plan. He represents District 3, which currently includes the towns of Oswegatchie and Morristown and a portion of the city of Ogdensburg. The county redistricting plan removes his portion of the city – which would have happened regardless because lawmakers couldnt count inmates in the citys two state prisons - and gives him part of the town of Canton and the village of Rensselaer Falls. He thinks its unfair to lump together Morristown, Oswegatchie and Canton residents because they dont have very much in common. It doesnt make sense to stick Rensselaer Falls with a couple of St. Lawrence River towns. Their interests and worries arent the same.
Plus he feels a little duped. The only other Republican who served with him on the Legislatures allegedly bipartisan redistricting committee was Donald A. Peck, who recently converted to a Democrat and, quite frankly, had not been known for voting in lockstep with the rest of the Legislatures Republican minority.
Was partisan politics in play as the districts were being redrawn by Legislators Vernon D. Sam Burns, D-Ogdensburg, and Frederick S. Morrill, D-DeKalb Junction? Well, the districts most affected are currently held by Republicans (and one who until recently had an R next to his name) – Mr. Lightfoot, Mr. Peck and Alexander A. MacKinnon of Fowler. The rest of the districts, the majority of which are held by Democrats, are for all intents and purposes unchanged. Thats not damning proof of partisanship, but it is an interesting coincidence.
Even if youre not sympathetic to Mr. Lightfoots plight or think the Legislatures Democratic majority was up to any partisan shenanigans, you might recall that county residents did not have much time to review the new districts before lawmakers adopted them in late May. Then the plan wasnt really mentioned again until a poorly attended public hearing and the Legislatures formal adoption this fall, the timing of which made it too late to circulate petitions to get it on this years ballot.
The Legislatures vote in July to set the public hearing for Sept. 24 fell along party lines, with all the Republicans except Mr. Peck - who was apparently batting for the other team anyway - voting against it because they supported holding the hearing earlier so petitions could be circulated.
Having sat through a couple of redistricting processes, its pretty obvious that most of the time the process is manipulated by whatever party holds a majority at the time to help them keep the status quo in the next election. This is a sad truth at all levels of government.
I dont know for sure that happened in the latest county redistricting, but I do know there is absolutely no harm in letting voters have an opportunity to weigh in on where their legislative districts are.
If there is no blatant attempt to manipulate the district lines to help the current majority party retain power, legislators should be willing to prove that by putting the redistricting plan to a public vote. Instead, a majority of them have actively worked against letting the public have a say. Actions speak louder than words.
I wish Mr. Lightfoot luck in getting the signatures he needs.